When our matriarch Rachel gave birth to Joseph she exclaimed, “God has taken away my disgrace.” Rashi suggests that this was accomplished by providing her with a child to blame for her faults. Why she said this and if this reflects anything about the role of children is a long and complicated discussion. But I was thinking about it when I taught a class this morning.

“Lori can’t come because she has a middle school tour.” “Cathy’s daughter is home from school sick.” “Sara has to go to a PTA meeting.” “Miriam is taking her kids to the dentist.” The list goes on and on. The class was planned over a month ago with everyone available. But now attendance has diminished…

This is mostly good. It reflects a recognition that our children should be our priority. This was also acknowledged by our sages in exempting women from time-dependent commandments. We can’t be expected to pray by a certain time of day with a minyan because who knows what our children’s needs will be and when they will occur. They certainly aren’t always expressed in a timely fashion, exactly when and where we’d prefer.

On the other hand, women aren’t exempt from praying altogether. It’s not carte blanche to ignore our other obligations. It struck me that women have taken this dictum, this freedom too far. You can’t pin everything on the kids! Yes, if our children are stick, we need to stay home. But if you already committed to a class, couldn’t you have scheduled the dentist appointments or school tours for another morning? Perhaps Sara could have requested that the PTA meet on a morning where she doesn’t have a prior commitment.

I’m willing to accept that attending my class may not be everyone’s priority (!) but keeping commitments should be and having children should not be a convenient excuse to absolve us of that responsibility. As stated, if they need us, then of course they come first. But do they really need us now? To the exclusion of all else? At the expense of other responsibilities and commitments?

And what are we teaching our children if they watch this behavior? I think there is one positive lesson but a risk of two negative ones as well. The positive one is how much they mean to us, how much they matter, that they come first. But this can also be a negative lesson; we don’t want them to learn that they always come first, that they can never wait their turn, or entertain themselves or put the needs of others in front of their own. This would end up being an extremely damaging result.

Additionally, they need to see that we have other responsibilities – to other family members and to our community – and that we honor our commitments. If we are constantly dropping everything to attend to their non-essential or non-emergency needs, they will believe that they are the center of the universe and that nothing and no one else matters. In our desire to raise secure, confident, well-loved children, we may make the mistake of creating monsters.

Like I said, I’m not sure what our mother Rachel was referring to. I know it had some connection to joining the ranks of all the other mothers, of finally becoming a member of a club in which she had felt left out. I will have to do more research to understand exactly the language she used and why. But I know for sure that she didn’t mean that our children are a convenient way of avoiding any responsibilities outside of the home. Perhaps we shouldn’t make commitments if our schedules are so subject to change and variable.

Or, and here’s a radical thought, perhaps we should just keep our commitments and plan our children’s schedules around them instead of doing the opposite.